Disney’s “live-action” remake of The Lion King is a huge box office success, having grossed more than $US 1 billion in about two weeks. The general audiences also seem to love it as indicated by the 88% Rotten Tomatoes audience score as well as ‘A’ on Cinemascore. However, opinions are rather different in the critics’ circle. The film has received mixed to negative reviews and believe it or not, has a 53% ‘rotten’ (average rating: 6.05/10) on the popular aggregator website.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that The Lion King (2019) is pretty much a shot-for-shot remake of the original, with only a couple of new scenes and a new song. The film doesn’t offer a fresh perspective or explore different themes. While I personally enjoyed the film quite a bit, I too am extremely disappointed that the film didn’t offer anything unique and unfamiliar beyond its visuals. I can’t think of a reason for this film to exist beyond making loads of money. (You can click here to check out my review).
And it looks like a lot of the animators of the original feel the same way too. Heck, they feel so much worse. In an interview with IndieWire, animator David Stephan chose to go fully on record to share his statement on the matter. Stephan worked on the design of the hyenas in the original movie as well as the iconic ‘Circle of Life’ opening sequence. He said:
“If you polled the crew of the original ‘Lion King,’ most of them would say, ‘Why? Did you really have to do that?’ It kind of hurts. It’s sort of sad that the stockholder is now in the room deciding what movies get made. Disney’s now taken the cover off, and it’s now in your face: ‘Yeah, we just want to make money.’ That’s disappointing as an artist, from a studio that was founded on originality and art.”
Stephan also went on to comment on the unnecessary realism of the film which caused the animals to lack facial expressions or personality.
“It would jar me out of the film, literally. Especially with little Simba walking around. It was too real. And then when he would talk, it reminded me of those old nature films where they would dub the voices over and the lips would move. I thought, ‘Oh, this is really cheap.’ I think it was just too soon for this one.
I just came away going, ‘Wow, that was a great story that I worked on back in ’93.’ How come the apes in ‘Planet of the Apes’ look so much more alive than the animals in ‘Lion King’?” Stephan continued. “This one just said, ‘You know what, let’s cut the expressions out completely. Let’s just keep it real as possible.’ And I think it just diminished the film.”
This is very, very true. Make no mistake, much like Avatar in 2009, this is a groundbreaking achievement in cinema technology. But what is the point if by doing so, Favreau also drained the film of personality?
Indiewire actually reached out to 12 other animators of the original The Lion King. Most of them offered comments anonymously as they were afraid of rubbing Disney the wrong way and jeopardizing their careers. One said “I will only get myself in trouble if I comment on the other version,” while another commented, “There is a huge resentment against these 3D remakes from the original 2D crews. Maybe if we got any kind of royalties it would be different.”